A Brooklyn state senator accused of giving non-credible testimony to a panel investigating the corrupt process to bring gambling to Aqueduct racetrack fired back this week, saying that his conduct was proper.
State Sen. Eric Adams (D–Fort Greene) was cited last month by New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch as one of several state lawmakers who were guilty of “failing to fulfill their public duty” in choosing the Aqueduct Entertainment Group run new video slot machines at the racetrack in a process that was a “political free-for-all.”
Fisch singled out Adams, chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, for taking thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from AEG and delivering testimony to investigators that Fisch deemed “incredible.”
But Adams strongly disputed that charge this week, asserting, “My conduct during this process was always proper and above reproach.”
“As we worked to select a new operator for the Aqueduct, my actions were guided by an important goal: to serve the best interests of the people of the state of New York, and of my district by finding the bidder that would develop a project that expedited job creation and reflected the input of the community,” said Adams.
The report found that Adams played an instrumental role in persuading Gov. Paterson to select AEG which coughed up $14,500 in campaign contributions to Adams between last July and this January.
Adams is mentioned multiple times in the Fisch report, though most of those references focus on two critical events that Adams allegedly attended: a dinner with Paterson and state Sen. Majority Leader John Sampson (D–Canarsie) where the finalized bid was conveyed, and a victory celebration at the house of the winning bidder’s chief lobbyist.
According to Paterson’s testimony, Adams and Sampson attended a dinner with him at a Manhattan restaurant in January, 2009, where they stated their preference for AEG to run the Aqueduct gaming concession.
Adams disputes this, saying he heard Paterson was in town and only stopped by the restaurant to “say hello and moved on.”
“So I don’t know if that’s considered a meeting,” said Adams. “They were chatting. I don’t know if people were meeting there … but I believe they identified the person. They stated they were with AEG, and I said hello and kept on going. I went to another part of the restaurant.”
But in the report, Fisch writes that Adams contradicted his legislative colleagues, and that no one would corroborate whether an AEG representative was present at the dinner, which led investigators to question his testimony.
“Adams’s version of events strains credulity as it would require a belief in a happenstance intrusion on a dinner between the governor and Sen. Sampson, [who] both testified he fully attended,” said the report.
A source close to Adams further disputed that finding, saying that Adams conveyed his preference for AEG to Paterson in November or December, not at the January dinner as Paterson represented.
The report further stated that Adams was present at a victory party on Feb. 2 at the Albany home of AEG lobbyist Carl Andrews — but a source questioned that allegation, noting that Adams attended Andrews’s Fourth of July barbecue and not the post-bid party.
Findings in the report have been turned over to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, whose office is currently conducting its own investigation into the case and has not yet brought any charges. A spokeswoman for Vance declined to comment.
In the end, the Aqueduct Entertainment Group was deemed unqualified to run the site and the state Lottery has since selected another group to operate the racetrack casino.